A few years ago, I was walking along the seawall at Kitsilano Beach. There’s a segment where the seawall separates the path from a drop (Six feet? Eight feet?) to the beach below. A friend I’ll call MJ dared me to walk atop the seawall.
It’s encouragingly over a foot wide. But would I risk toppling from a height greater than my own?
“Hold my hand,” I said. “Then I’ll try it.”
“That would be only for practice.”
“You’ve got to be joking. No thanks!”
At that moment, a man and his dog approached us from the opposite direction. The dog–a short-legged breed, perhaps a Welsh Corgi or a Bassett Hound–was calmly, blithely, negotiating that seawall.
“See? He’s not afraid. What’s your yoga good for?”
He was toying with me, but he did have a point. Any gains in strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination should be useful in real life. As Aadil Palkhivala humorously noted in a December 2011 workshop, “If someone asks, ‘Who are you?’ you’re not going to leap into Trikonasana!” Likewise in the mental arena: what’s the point of doing yoga for hours if you’re impatient and short-tempered off the mat?
Focusing on the physical side of asana, have yoga poses changed your body mechanics? Can you translate yoga alignment (and the appropriate “actions”) to everyday life?
Real life is about movement. In a yoga class, asana should be taught step by step–at the outset and most of the time. In everyday life, however, we must be able to move without pondering each step.
Actually, some poses involve a bit of velocity. Take Adho Mukha Vrksasana, handstand or arm balance. Some yoga students cannot kick up despite sufficient strength and flexibility (and the ability to hold a handstand if assisted up). In contrast, at the gym, some guys kick up into arched-back, hunched-shoulder handstands without hesitation. They “shouldn’t” do handstands (at least not without guidance), but they can and do!
So why can’t those yoga students kick up? Here are a few ideas:
- Fear Some might worry that their arms will collapse or that they’ll somehow fall, and this fear elicits a lukewarm or scattered kick. They are psyching themselves out.
- Insufficient “burst” While all asana involves isotonic muscular contraction, Iyengar yoga often emphasizes isometric contraction with its long holds (think 10-minute headstands and repeated 30-second Chaturanga Dandasana). Maybe some need to work on faster movement–to become accustomed to jumping, lunging, rolling, and kicking up.
- Putting it all together A person might possess the necessary physical attributes to do a pose, but simply be stymied putting it all together. Doing everything at once. I’m reminded of W Timothy Gallwey’s points in The Inner Game of Tennis, in which he recommends quieting the chatty “left brain” (voicing instructions and criticism) and letting the “right brain” intuitively performs the actions.
In my last post, I discussed flow yoga as complementary to Iyengar yoga (Iyengar flow?). Flow yoga, done well, is not contradictory to Iyengar yoga, done well. It just involves integrating appropriate actions in motion. It trains the mind constantly, swiftly, seamlessly to shift from one pose to another.
At one end of the spectrum, there are isometric long holds; at the other, there are rapid-fire, precisely choreographed athletic moves–done so fast that the mind must be silenced! In between, maybe doing faster-paced sequences can be good training for those too comfy moving slowly and deliberately–while those guys who kick up to banana-shaped handstands would benefit from Iyengar yoga.
What about walking on a seawall, wide enough but also high enough to risk injury (or at least a scream)? I don’t know. My instinct for self-preservation is strong, whether that’s yogic or not.
Images: The Pose: Handstand, Women’s Health; Standing on Your Own Two Hands, Linda Sparrowe, Yoga Journal
This is the pose that poses the biggest psychological problem for me – yes it’s that fear of collapsing. Drives me crazy. As for walking on top of the seawall – probably not gonna happen, but the handstand – I need to set a goal and just do it!
Ah Yoga Spy, how can this be? I’ve happily walked along the top of the seawall at just that spot. No problem, unless there’s a small dog coming your way and you’re not sure who will win in the face-off.
But arm balance? Fear, fear, fear.
To tell the truth, I haven’t walked along there in ages and couldn’t recall if it was that high. It might be one of those memories that grow in size and scope over time! But it made a good story, didn’t it?
Interesting choice: balance beam versus handstand.
A thought: after all the training in the detail of the pose there is I think that last moment in the kick up of blithe ‘un-doggedness’, where one just DOES IT. Just DOING IT takes training – we’re pretty attached to our ideas around ‘self’ control.
Let’s organize an Iyengar posse to scout out guys at the gym who need guidance in Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Are you in!!!?
thanks also Yoga Spy for your isotonic/isometric link.
Yes, I agree that there is a moment of “just do it” pure action.
Ha! I see egregious form all the time at the gym. Iyengar yoga could save spines and change lives!
yes and… yoga is for a reason… to train the body for that reason for this special WORK is different than to use the skills for your daily life, as for instance you become flexible so you might use it for sports like climbing, than i would say the motivation is to be asked again, for me yoga is very fine cultivation of the body mind soul system, to become a vessel to store more energy for the work of transformation, there is a danger to use the skills and fruits of yoga for your ego to show up, the step on the other side is very supple and thin, just a thought wide and you do something you even not really away of why you are doing it and than you fake yourself by give it a fragile argument, yoga is be used for a lot of nonsense, yes and it give you this and that, good looking legs and strengths but beware of the danger to misuse it for worldly things to show off, yoga is not made for that reason, let your friend say and ask: “… for what is your yoga good for?” than you can explain, yoga is for that you find the root of your “acting”, the reason for what you just said, and if the reason is to step on the wall to not look stupid in front of your friend, than you a much closer by knowing that fact, instead to think yoga is for example to become more brave, don´t compare yourself with a dog you are a Yogi!
I am one of those stopped by the fear that my arms can collapse. If I think too much about it, I cannot even do a crow pose, let alone a headstand. But when I simply do it, it’s wonderful.
I totally get it. I’ve walked that spot on the seawall as well and felt very nervous navigating the edge. I believe it took a few steps then got off. Although it should be easy to do it’s funny the fear our mind can make us feel. I am feeling that same fear with trying to do the hand stand against the wall. I have no idea why, but it’s not easy for me. However I know I will get through it.